Anarchist fatalism – according to which it is easier to imagine the end of capitalism than a left-wing Labour Party – is the complement of the capitalist realist insistence that there is no alternative to capitalism.
This is a clever zinger and everything, but the thing is the end of capitalism actually is more realistic than a left-wing Labour Party; the Labour Party’s entire history and structure bias it against radicalism, and contemporary economic reorganization makes it increasingly unlikely it would even become a social democratic party again. More generally, I don’t get this hand-wringing about radicals having a parliamentary strategy. My parliamentary strategy is, if left-wing Labour members want to abolish capital and the state, they’re welcome to help. But there’s no need for people who already have more left-wing politics than Labour to engage with the Labour Party. The only thing that could possibly create the conditions for a genuinely left-wing Labour Party is an extra-parliamentary left movement; if that did create these conditions, great, but in that case, the people already on the Labour left are best placed to take advantage of that opportunity. It’s not like we’re in imminent danger of running out of left-wingers who, for nostalgic reasons, are still part of Labour.
Chuffed but Gutted: Owen Jones - The Almost Autonomist
Owen Jones appeared yesterday on Novara Media. For those readers from outside the UK, Novara Media is a “autonomous media collective” based in London that currently manifests itself as an hour long radio show on weekly at 1PM GMT on Fridays on Resonance FM but that in the near future hopes to expand to internet TV. It provides really excellent analysis of political conditions, interesting interviews with leading left-wing writers and thinkers and excellent analysis of events as they unfold. Worth tuning in every week or subscribing to their podcast. Their archive is also really worth listening to - all their shows are on their website.
Jones is a commentator for the Independent newspaper and a writer who is also a member and activist on the left of the Labour party. During the programme, Owen outlines his reasons for supporting the Labour party and mainstream unions. What interests us here is how much he concedes and shares with the analysis of the presenters of Novara, an analysis which finds much of its basis in the stream of Italian autonomist Marxism which began in the mid-1960s - detailed in a number of previousshows. Perhaps unknown to him and certainly not in theoretical terms he would endorse, Owen ends up on much the same page about the way in which the working class now looks, yet still believes in the mass organs of working class born and constituted by and for a composition of the working class that no longer exists. The question is: why?
Italian autonomist Marxism has a long and complicated history that flows from the early theory of Operaismo in the 1960s (workerism in journals Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia), through to the larger organisations until the mid-to-late 1970s (Lotta Continua and Potere Operaio especially) to Autonomia Operaia and then “post-Workerism” that includes analyses made famous by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in works such as Empire and Paolo Virno’s (superior) Grammar of the Multitude. One continuity between these brands of Italian Marxism is the idea of analysing “class composition”, understood as centrally important to organising the working class against capitalism1.
In its workerist period where it was most cleanly articulated, class composition called for attention to the close relationship between what they called the technical composition of the working class and its political composition. The technical composition - the way in which work was organised, the flow of the working day, the manner in which communication was allowed on the shop floor - resulted in a particular political composition of the working class - the manner in which they would struggle against the working conditions imposed upon them by capital. As Wright points out, this characterisation can sometimes appear rigidly mechanistic, but this was related to another classical workerist analysis, the so-called “Copernican inversion” instituted by the Operaist theorist Mario Tronti. Just as Copernicus had inverted the relationship between the Earth and cosmos, Tronti that the ruling classes respond to working class struggle, which is primary, rather than the other way around. Previously Marxists had written history from the perspective of capital - the point was to read it from the perspective of the living labour subjugated by capital, to which capital responded by changing. Thus the technical discipling of one era of the working class is the result of their struggle in the preceding era. This leads to an alternative history of the struggles between classes which can be extended to the digital sphere.
This means that careful attention was paid to the way the working class as they actually existed and struggled against capitalism in their day to day lives. This meant that this understanding of that life was to be finally the task of the workers themselves, with only the help of theorists and left sociologists - the idea of the ‘worker’s enquiry’ was central to workerist and then autonomist analyses. Since this early period analysts working in the tradition have paid close attention to the changes in the way work is composed, offering a series of new understandings that operate under the unstable, sometimes over wrought but provocative categories of post-Fordism, immaterial labour, affective labour, precarious labour, the Multitude, the cognitariat and so on. What is centrally important here though is that if the working class is to struggle, it must be understood as it is now. The problem with the political organisations of the day, the early workerists theorised, was that they had a view of the working class that was radically out of date, so they were totally unable to respond to its needs. The mass organisations of the unions and the Italian communist party (the PCI) could no longer represent in their idea of the working class, the new ‘mass worker’, partially formed by unskilled migrant labour and forced into an accelerated rate of production, that directly much of its rage against the idea of work itself. The figure of the proud skilled worker collecting their just reward and the unions promoting the dignity of work that flowed from this were out of date for the situation the real working class found itself.
Jones’ first book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class is sometimes taken as a rather nostalgic book, pining for the days prior to Thatcher. However, as is clear from his Novara interview, Jones is rather more astute in his analysis of how class reproduces itself today. As Jones says, more people are now employed in call centres than were employed down the mines. The class composition of the working class has profoundly changed, which Jones seems to admit “If the miner was one of the iconic jobs of post-war Britain, then today, surely, the call centre worker is as good a symbol of the working class as any”. For the autonomist Marxists, these changes result in the need for a different approach to political organisation, the germs of which emerged in the Italian experience of the ‘movement of 1977’. Some post-autonomist theorists - such as Hardt and Negri - have been rather over enthusiastic about the political possibilities of this type of communication worker as being intrinscally collaborative and ‘communistic’ - something that has been heavily criticised. Those influenced by the autonomist tradition have published extremely detailed analyses of call centre work - the most famous being Kolinko’s Hotlines. Indeed, the best moments of Chavs are the descriptions of daily work that could well flow from one of these organisations.
So, the problem with Jones’ analysis is that on one hand he agrees with the idea that the working class has fundamentally changed in the UK under the conditions we might call “post-Fordism”, but that the organs of the working class must look to are still the organs of the period preceding it. Owen repeats that the times where working people clustered around a similar place, all doing the same job and therefore represented by the mass union have concluded, but then looks to the same things now to do the same job now. It is frustrating - why praise the organisational innovation of UKUncut then claim unions could do anything approaching this? When Jones’ details the numerous defeats for the Left inside the Labour party, he then places the burden of proof on the person who claims that maybe the Labour party isn’t the best place for a genuinely left wing project. Yet surely that burden should be on Jones to explain why now given all the preceding history, the Labour party could work out this time, especially given its current formation. Perhaps those attempts outside the Labour party would had had more success without these kind of arguments being produced? Despite all his pessimism of the current state of the Left, Jones believes the situation that preceded (say) the smashing of the unions by Thatcher can be restored. How when the form of work that allowed their formulation no longer exists as he himself admits? The same goes for the terminal decline in the membership of political parties as such, including the Labour party.
In short, Owen would be better served following the arguments of his own work to the logical conclusion, genuinely “starting where people are” as workers and abandoning hope in the mass organisations of the working class that serve a class that no longer exists. Come on outside Owen - the autonomia’s lovely!
Language is a plastic thing. One cannot be too precious about new and different uses of words once held in one context. Indeed the plasticity of language is one of the key engines of the innovation and diversity of internet culture. However, recent discussion of the word troll and its slippage into a term to mean only “vicious abuse online” is concerning. I am of course here not defending those who use online fora to send threats of sexual assault to women, or perpetuate misogyny. Strategies need to be developed to prevent these abuses. However the conflation of trolling solely with abuse seems to be indicative of a wider tendency regarding online discourse. Often the cry of “troll” is the response to every and every even reasonable critique - the fear of the powerful of the mob.
Trolling even in its classic form - the taking of a different identity (more often than not maintaining a position the troll does not hold) to deliberately stir up trouble and cause (often deliberately) intractable arguments in online communities - can of course be offensive and abusive. Its often not fun being trolled. The whole point is to make people angry. It is not entirely harmless, but it is not uninteresting either. The lulz (the humour derived from trolling) is often radically im/amoral.
But as DSG pointed out a while back with groups like Anonymous there is increasingly a fluidity between lulz based disruption and economic and political disruption in the service of politics. This phenomena cannot be avoided. For many net natives trolling is the first taste of rebellion.
At its best trolling was a disruption of online communities where certain cultures, belief and practices have become so entrenched as to be naturalised and unexamined. It can be creative, cunning, smart. A troll knows the communities it trolls. She knows their push buttons, she must understand how to simulate membership of the community effectively to gain trust. They know where the levers are and how to use them. They must understand technologies of anonymity and evasion. These skills can be respected - they are a craft of sorts.
The troll is often an organic sociologist of online communities. At the same time calling out a troll is difficult precisely because the best trolling would be so subtle that it would be indistinguishable from at least some of the dynamics within the community itself - a newbie not understanding the culture and posting something stupid. More interestingly perhaps, for an online community to recognise a troll it requires a certain level of self-consciousness amongst members as to their own dynamics. To understand the troll is to understand internet communities. Maybe trolls were the first to do so in the age of usenet and BBS.
An example: persistently tweeting “your a dick” at Richard Dawkins. To explain the joke is perhaps to make it boring but the reason why this works as a troll of internet based atheists is because that community are fans of Dawkins and sticklers for proper grammar and this causes them to get mad. Its pointless, but its also subtly quite funny. It understands better the structure of this community than most commentators on the subject and does so entirely organically. As Biella Coleman says of Anonymous “our weirdness is free”. Acts like trolling especially when done in groups are the organic unpredictable and self-made popular culture of the internet. We build it for ourselves.
The taking of the word troll to mean simple abuse is a symptom of the increasingly flattening corporate space of the internet. Facebook asks for your real name because it thinks your real name is the only identity that can be. Rather than the properly anarchic early days of internet communication, where people were permitted to fashion identities and build communities as they saw fit, wildly innovative in their dynamics, it speaks of an increasingly controlled and administrated cybernetic sphere. These innovative spaces naturally were eventually only colonised by capital as is the ongoing dynamic online - the vampire incapable of innovation. Is not the shock comedian or reactionary columnist - taking the art of trolling at its most superficial and banal level mainly for advertising hits - the attempt at the corporate mainstream media recreation of the troll?
The troll is disruptive, and disruption cannot be permitted in an internet that values clear and clean communication - only clear and clean communication can have advertising data extracted from it - only clear communication can create the metric on the self as a consumer that will then later be sold to the highest bidder - only clear and clean communication ensures the smooth operation of the online space as a sphere of marketing and sales. The figure of the troll rightly understood is one nightmare of this space.
What do you think will be the content of the “post-capitalist planning” called for in the Manifesto. How would this be significantly different from schemes, not only of GOSPLAN but also of Technocracy, Inc or Italian Futurism?
Our conclusion that post-capitalist planning is required stems from the theoretical failures of market socialism as well as from our own belief that a planned system can distribute goods and resources in a more rational way than the market system. This differs from previous experiments with such a system in rejecting both the techno-utopian impulse of much recent writing on post-capitalism, and the centralised nature of the Soviet system.
With regards to the former – we valorise technology not simply as a means to solve problems, but also as a weapon to wield in social struggles. So we reject any Silicon Valley-ish faith in technology – a problem that the liberal left often falls into. On the other hand, we reject any discourse of authenticity which sees technology as an aberration or as the source of contemporary problems – a problem that the proper left often falls into. The question has to be ‘how can we develop, design and use technology in a way which furthers leftist goals?’ This means thinking how infrastructures, data analytics, logistics networks, and automation can all play a role in building the material platform for a post-capitalist system. The belief that our current technologies are intrinsically wedded to a neoliberal social system is not only theoretically obsolete, but also practically limiting. So without thinking technology is sufficient to save us, we nevertheless believe that technology is a primary area where tools and weapons for struggle can be developed.
With regards to the centralised nature of planning, it should be clear to everyone that the Soviet system was a failure in many regards. The issue here is to learn from past experiments such as GOSPLAN, and from theoretical proposals such as Parecon and Devine’s democratic planning. Particularly inspiring here is the Chilean experiment, Cybersyn, which contrary to the stereotype of a planned economy, in fact attempted to build a system which incorporated worker’s self-autonomy and factory-level democracy into the planned economy. There remain issues here about the gender-bias of the system (the design of the central hub being built for men, for instance), yet this experiment is a rich resource for thinking through what it might mean to build a post-capitalist economy. And it should be remembered that Cybersyn was built with less than the computing power of a smartphone. It is today’s technology which offers real resources for organising an economy in a far more rational way than the market system does.
It has to be recognised then that communism is an idea that was ahead of its time. It is a 21st century idea that was made popular in the 20th century and was enacted by a 19th century economy.
I’d like to thank automnia for a very quick response to the piece on What’s Left. Its probably important to say here that I agree more than disagree with the analysis proffered. There is likely far more common ground than disagreement.
The intention of this paragraph was simply to summarise the position of the piece. The claim is that the original piece says it is unethical to place such broad people in a wide category. The response to this merely confirms this is some of what the piece is driving at.
There is no need to claim a “close similarity”. The point is precisely Stalin and the Black Panthers do not share every aspect, but rather they have overlapping elements, hence the concept of family resemblance detailed there. It seems not impossible to draw lines between the Diggers and social democracy, through various discussions of the need for property for those who have none in general and the influence of Christianity on both. The influence of the Diggers as part of the historical memory of much of the Left seems undeniable.
This seems to be the least important point of the discussion to be had here, so I will leave it. The Left seems for various reasons to remain a useful term for carving up reality. However, it seems clear to me that all currently extant vectors of it are of little use, as the original piece eloquently recognises. I don’t care about the conceptual unity of the term “the Left”. I care about the tactics and strategy necessary to overcome the state of things.
3 - 4
The inference is not that Communists Like Us is not relevant, rather that it is interesting how these themes recur and continue to resonate. It was interesting to see so many love the piece as something fresh, bracing even. This phenomena was the one that was being attempted to isolate here. Why do these debates persist? Or more vitally - why have these problems not yet been solved? Why are we still writing these pieces? The likely response to this from you would be that the historical bloc of The Left persists.
Its difficult to disagree with much of what is here on the question of Left organisations. But it seems like a notion of class cannot avoid all questions of “unity” as a sociological entity. How is there a sufficiently shared condition of a group of human individuals that allow them to constitute a class? It seems, though unexamined, that class requires an acceleration of the understanding of this shared condition, which may resemble a unity. Yet at the same time, it is also clear that no Left grouping on the mainstream truly embodies this now. This may well be a philosophical quibble.
As for barricades, when did I say they were not valuable? The point is and was that the piece refers to values of the Left while declaiming the traditions of it - what could be a more Leftist phrase than solidarity? As stated earlier, this remains an area which matters very little to the most important things at stake here.
"Anti-austerity" was in inverted commas for a reason - this phrase almost did not make it to the piece in the first place. I do not agree that "anti-austerity" is a worthy name for the neccessary struggle and agree entirely with the analysis that "Austerity is a way for capital to reinvent and protect itself after an existential crisis". Nether will I disagree with any of the analysis that "the motors of struggle we relied upon (predominantly the unions and their client groups) are fundamentally opposed to the actions we take or the world we wish to create". Or that established left in unions are entirely anti-radical. These seem almost self-evident facts.
The question is then - where do we go once we have agreed on this?
What can we invent outside a call to do otherwise?
I’m not going to lie. I didn’t expect anyone to like “Left For Dead”. I published it mainly because the word document had been hanging round my hard drive like an obnoxious spirit, reminding me at every occasion of both my depressing inability to write and my complete lack of courage in…
This article discusses the piece Left For Dead which has been doing the rounds on Twitter this morning. Judging by the shares the article resonated with quite a few people. The one element that we will not consider here are those regarding the SWP and the People’s Assembly. We will concentrate rather on some more historical and philosophical issues.
Much of the piece appears to be a disaggreement with the use of the term The Left as a means with which to categorise and sift political movements under such a broad category - a heuristic. Such a claim is a mistake and an ethical one at that: “intelligent and pleasant human beings are neatly categorised alongside Stalin, Mao and Harriet Harman”. “The USSR was left wing, as are both China and Cuba. If that sentence incensed you, good. Direct your fury at the terminology, not its critic.”. The Left is a “hopelessly nebulous definition”. It is an insult to lump “Diggers, Luddites, Chartists, Communards, Suffragettes, Black Panthers, Stonewallers, Zapatistas, Pussy Rioters, Occupiers” in with mass murderers and so on.
The problem remains however that there is a definative family resemblance between all these items. This uses the term used by Wittgenstein against pre-ordained and fixed categorisations of resemblance between things:
"Consider for example the proceedings that we call "games". I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? Don’t say: "There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games’ "—but look and see whether there is anything common to all. For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that….And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail. . I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than "family resemblances"; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way. And I shall say: ‘games’ form a family."1
For example, the Black Panthers were influenced by Marxism as much as Stalin, the Communards took ideas from the Left as much as the USSR, some of the Suffragettes formed part of the socialist internationals that were criticised by Lenin and so on. There are shared patterns between Blair and Bakunin, shared normative/ethical commitments, shared methodologies of thought, shared histories on which both parties reflect - ideas such as shared ownership (the idea of the state as a shared ownership is still within this category), freedom, solidarity and so on. There is not a definite set of parameters with which we can define The Left, but a family resembalance between all these that is more than plausible and makes the whole notion less nebulous. While it is of course true that “Before the 1780s, “the left” did not exist, yet the world was not one of unquestioning obedience to authority”, it is difficult not to think of The Left as a crystalisation and reinforcement of those struggles which certainly accelerated them by providing certain clear poles of attraction and a tradition of thought.
The denial of the fact that movements implicated in awful violence against innocent people - more often than not the very people they fought for - were of the Left appears to be a dodge of questions crucial to ask in order to not make the same mistakes these movements made.
The interesting question is surely, for example, how did the animating pursuits of the Russian revolution - doubtless right - end with the reopening of the same prisons as the Tsar? How did it come to happen that workers working to preserve the movement of the revolution rode against workers attempting to preserve the movement of the revolution (as with Kronstadt)? These are the hard questions and not limited to the obvious legacy of Russia, which still apparently dominates the imaginary of the Left - even when the concept of the Left is being attacked. To not recognise the danger in the ideas we hold to also create horrors or simply lose appears a more significant failure of thought and ethics than to group people within the same category.
There is nothing new here. And yet it still resonates. Yet this still makes it difficult to say that the piece is “provocative” as a result. Since the split between anarchists and the mainstream of Marxism the question of authority and structure has been posed and re-posed. Myriad left-communists, anarchists, autonomists, left-Marxists and so on have made the point that the current structures of the Left are utterly inadequate strategically and tactically. Anarchists polemicise against Leftism continuously. A piece like Solidarity Federation’s Fighting For Ourselves makes these points clearly. Even a figure like Lenin spends much of his famous What Is To Be Done? criticising the revolutionary inadequacies of other patterns of Left wing organisation. The invention of the vanguard party was a solution to what he saw of the percieved inadequacies of the economism of “trade union consiousness”.
Criticism of the Left, criticism of the organisations of the Left, self-criticism in the service of advancing the goals of that pursue “the total emancipation of humanity” through tactical consideration and so on are a constitutive part of much of the Left. It is difficult to see what this piece adds, unless, of course, these structures were originally believed in? And yet, this piece has been widely shared and resonates enough for this piece to be written.
In this respect the references to Toni Negri and Felix Guattari’s Communists Like Us, published in a wider collectionNew Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty is quite telling. This text was written at the start of the 1980s. It criticises the traditional organisations of the Left, including the centrality of the factory bound worker and the classic social democractic organisations of this subject. It calls for a unhierachical struggle that recognises singularity and plurality. It makes some poor calls - saying that, for example, the German Green party was a possible vector for liberation. It is very much a text of its time, as is this text before us.
While the piece opposes unity as a “false idol”, it seems to oppose its own structures insomuch as it recognises a more fundamental unity, the unity of class and believes this to be actionable. “There are not seven classes, only two”. This rather undercuts the thurst of rest of the piece that is opposed to the idea of unity. All that is required is the recognition that we are a class against our enemy “One is our enemy, and one is us. What more unity do we need?”. But is this not complicit in the same flattening that the piece thinks so problematic - the flattening of the whole of the world into to homogenous undifferentiated blocs? Indeed, while we are inclined to agree that this is the dynamic of class society examining the dynamics within individual classes seems a neccessary requirement. What differs between these and calls for Left Unity in general? They seem structurally identical. Presumably one needs a unity of shared ideas to agree to “smash the left”? Why does the piece claim we don’t need unity but then claims we need to educate people on the historical continuity of struggle? Why call for fresh movements than call for picket lines and barricades - hardly new actions - indeed those of the historical Left.
Thus, the piece appears to have some trouble shaking off the habits of thought it criticises. This is in part because it is difficult to think of ideas of unity and difference without considering some philosophical issues regarding them. This is not an attempt to vaguely academise or abstract these sort of debates, but it appears to us that they often reach an impasse that will not be passed without examination and discussion of their terms, which is the work of living philosophy. The discussion of how to balance unity and diversity is not restricted to the debates of the Left. Which is to say though the tools of using some ideas from philosophy to clarify our political conceptions (as Guattari and Negri did in the late 1970s with talk of rhizomes and singularities) we should recognise that these questions will likely never be adequately closed and remain live for the rest of human history. Plato’s Parmenides, one of the founding documents of the Western philosophical tradition begins with a discussion of the One and the Many. Not to mention the vexed structure/agency problem and the battles between humanism and anti-humanism and notions of individuation and the nature of individuals. Yet, as with Wittgenstein, the purpose is not to entangle ourselves in new metaphysical problems but rather “help us work ourselves out of confusions we become entangled in when philosophizing”2. The end of philosophy of course being “the point is to change it”. This piece is certainly a contribution to this methodology.
What this piece represents is a certain mood in the process of UK basd “anti-austerity” struggles. It is clear that the structures avaliable right now of organisation are radically inadequate. So much was clear for Negri and Guattari writing in the late 1970s. Better now to suggest experiments beyond what currently exists, experiments which may well be flawed and finite. Rather build something new than exhaust ourselves by attempting to attack structures which are of no use to us which appears to be implicit in calls to “smash the left”. This appears as hand-waving as calls to “smash the left”. Yet at least this piece establishes in polemic style where we are at. And perhaps what we can decide is the starting point for the next steps.
You may have seen/read or heard about a trendy burger bar in Dalston opening recently, in the gutted remains of the both publicly and privately funded Asian Women’s Advisory Service which has been shut for years following a lack of funding. There has been a backlash against it since an image…
For many reasons, Tumblr is part of my identity. I’ve found a release, encountered incredible talent, fangirled, learned life hacks, and made invaluable friends. Over the past three years, Tumblr has become part of my everyday life. One of the brilliant things about it is the anonymity. It’s not…
Alright so if Yahoo does in fact buy out Tumblr and decide to change everything about this site, I just want to make sure I say good-bye to everyone on here.To all my followers, all of EVERYONE on Tumblr who loves this site as much as I do. I guess what those people just don’t get is that Tumblr…
I sort of admire John Harris’s attempt to fashion an entire career by endlessly writing the “where have all the protests songs gone?” article. His complaint always appears to be that, as a man who chooses to listen exclusively to shit music, all the music he hears is shit. And this article fails to mention Girls Aloud, so its argument is obviously invalid.
Monty Python once fantasized about a joke so funny it could kill; whoever heard it or read it would die laughing. “Jokes warfare” would spread as a deadly virus. Carl von Clausewitz famously stated that “war is a continuation of politics by other means.” The same goes, quite frankly, for…
“Processed World also uses humor because it serves to distance our project from the deathly self-importance of the dogmatic leftists and their boring, oppressive ideas of “socialism”. Seeking to encourage utopian thinking, to instill and legitimate aspirations for a world governed by pleasure and desire, Processed World cultivates its sense of humor at every opportunity.”—
Processed World Collective, “Just the Facts, Ma’am: An Autobiography” in Technoculture, ed. Constance Penley and Andrew Ross (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1991), 231-246.
Compare groups like Anonymous, DSG, Class War et al who deploy humour in their politics.
“The so-called creative class of intellects and artists was supposed to remake America’s cities and revive urban wastelands. Now the evidence is in—and the experiment appears to have failed”
(seriously though - this is a good insight into the kind of grotesque bullshit that has guided urban development over the last decade or so. extensive studies of cities and their challenges replaced with THE CREATIVE CLASS. fuck richard florida)
It is an impossibility for a subcultural style to be “owned”. Sub-culture exists when gazed at by mass-culture. The only way to ensure that your aesthetic is not going to become used by others is to never share it with anyone. Another approach is to protect your aesthetic with physical violence (see: gang colors). Otherwise, once you allow your presence to be seen, it can be consumed.
Most communities protect their culture through some form of obfuscation: hiding the meaning of their communication by making it hard to interpret.
This is a practice I’ve been studying for some time and some of it is incredible.
Tum bl r an d L J u sers sep ar ate w ords thr ou gh o dd spacin g in o rde r to fo ol sea rc h en g i nes.
If you want your subculture to go undetected, all of these techniques are moderately effective at keeping your activity away from people and their machines. Until they *want* to find you. Then they’ll find ways around the gates you throw up.
Ask an autonomist what her favourite film is and the only correct reply is Elio Petri’s masterwork La class operaia va in Paradiso (The Working Class Go To Heaven, 1971). The recently published collection of Petri’s writings in English translation reminds us that the piece was exceptionally badly received at the time by the Left, including the extra-parliamentary left that it would be assumed now would have been sympathetic.
The showing of the film at the the ‘Il cinema libero’ festival was picketed by student protesters for being reformist. Jean Marie Straub called for the film to be burnt, Pio Baldelli - later a member of the Radical Party remembered for springing Antonio Negri from jail - said the film was a reactionary and fascist work. A Lotta Continua militant took to the pages of a French film journal to condemn the film:
"I would like to cite two concrete facts to give global perspective on the reactionary aspect of the film. In the years 1968-69, some factory workers began militant activity in the Pirelli and Fiat factories. These movements (and it is precisely for this aspect that I criticise the film) did not develop from a single individual crisis, but rather were produced by the contradictions intrinsic to the industry and fomented by independently organised groups. The film totally negates everything that happened in the factories and denies the potential of the working classes. In Europe, we are considered on the forefront. The film should express this, and except for the final 20 minutes, it does. I would have liked for these last 20 minutes to show the existing polemic between the workers’ movement and the unions. This is what is missing from the film and why it is deeply reactionary […] This film is a product of reformist politics and, what is worse, produces a fascist ideology.1”
What is interesting, and unintentionally funny about this quote is the author makes out (as the contemporary viewer assumes) that the film accurately expresses the facts on the ground. Apart from the last twenty minutes, which to a modern viewer is an ambiguous (but nonetheless truthful) account of the return of workers to the factory the film is good - but still produces a fascist ideology!
You know what they say about art finding it’s audience in the future…
Jean A Gili, ‘Elio Petri: Artist and Intellectual’ in Writings on Cinema and Life, by Elio Petri. Translated by Camilla Zamboni and Erika Marina Nadir (London: Contra Mundum Press, 2013), xv ↩
Trotsky himself is really incidental to all this. His actual deeds and policies are irrelevant; he’s only a master-signifier for anti-Stalinism. Needless to say, this is all profoundly anti-materialist: despite their attempts to effect a materialist analysis of Stalinism as ‘bureaucratic state capitalism,’ the jargon really just disguises a complaint: ‘if my guy had won out, everything would have been so much better!’ – with the unspoken caveat that this can never be anything other than a conditional, that Trotsky represents nothing more than the guy who didn’t win out. As such Trotskyism raises the cult of personality to its apotheosis: it’s pure personality-cult, based on a ‘pure’ personality, defined entirely negatively, a personality that can gain universal relevance through avoiding any particular affirmation.
It should be remembered that after he consolidated his power, Stalin actually put most of Trotsky’s ‘far-left’ policies into practice, collectivising agriculture and focusing on the rapid development of heavy industry in the five-year plans. None of this is to say that the excesses of Stalinism should not be critiqued; the point is that the Trotskyite critique lacks any substantive foundation. Imagine a counterfactual: if Trotsky had won the Soviet power struggle, expelling Stalin and extending the violence of War Communism into peacetime, would present-day Trotskyites have affiliated themselves with his period in power? Of course not. They’d be calling themselves Stalinists.
Clockwatchers - Or A Proletariat Sex And The City At Work
Spoilers follow for the film Clockwatchers
Trigger warning: self-harm, eating disorders.
Though marketed as a quirky office comedy, Clockwatchers (1997) is a low key film, marked by a deep melancholy. It is at its heart a serious meditation on the realities of contemporary work - in this case, temping. Clockwatchers concerns the lives of four female temps in an unknown US city working in an office in administrative or secretarial roles. The work done here is specifically gendered - the workers are secretaries, subject to the sexualised discipline of the workplace and affective labour alongside the tradition rule of power. The film’s characters are sympathetically drawn and the film passes the bechdel test with flying colours. While secretarial work is not particularly something new for women in the workplace and neither are the depictions of it on film, the Post-Fordist aspects of the work in Clockwatchers are striking - first its highly precarious nature, second the service nature of the work, amplified by the fact that the workplace is a credit agency. The writers of the film, director Jill Sprecher and her sister Karen Sprecher drew on their own experience of temping, as well as financial difficulty and it shows. The film manages to capture extremely well the psychological and even political states such work engenders. For a mainstream film it is surprising subversive - partially simply by the act of this work being represented on screen. The sisters know their stuff - citing Kafka and Sartre as influences, some have called them the "Coen sisters". This blog post makes the point that “The first rule of America: don’t talk about work…This is a movie that’s not afraid to talk about work…”. The effect of this film is already positive, despite the aforementioned melancholy: on the IMDB message boards users use the film to jump off to talk about their temping hells.
The film begins with the narrating character Iris joining the company, arriving nervously for work - accidentally waiting two hours in reception as no person had gone to find her. Iris is initially quiet, reserved. She meets Margaret who introduces her to the other temps - Jane and Paula. Already the antagonism between the temps, who are able to be thrown out at any time and the permanent staff are established. The lack of trust towards the temps from the organisation - as well as some of the advantages offered by temporary work (and perhaps even precarity itself) - i.e. that you can mess up and they are unlikely to find out. This is however belied by the fact that any minor infraction will result in dismissal and ruin - Margaret mentions the ease with which even after a few years in a firm she was fired without warning. Confident and sassy, Margaret introduces Iris to various means by which she can game the system to make work enjoyable - petty theft of stationary, low level sabotage to avoid work (and call out the dishy photocopier repair man), flirting with the management to get what she wants. The four grow into being good friends, supporting each other, particularly when it comes to men - the dynamic resembles a proletariat Sex And The City - Margaret burns the card of a man who looks likely to hurt Paula in a bar. The work is boring, pointless and tiresome - accompanied by the continuous din of musak - so the girls live for getting off and heading to the bars for the occasional dismissal happy hour where they can enjoy the free buffet - taking food home in their bags - or auto-reducing the price tags for clothes in the shop. Each character seeks escape from the office. Paula dreams of becoming an actress, Jane is after a satisfied life with her (cheating, rich) fiancé. Margaret, who has been doing temporary work the longest seeks nothing so lofty - just a recommendation letter so she might be able to obtain a permanent post. The kind of cruel optimism engendered by temporary work and the compromises of the Fordist social contract within post-Fordism as explored by Lauren Berland is very much in evidence.
Trouble begins when a new worker, the extremely quiet Cleo begins work under a permanent contract. Almost immediately as she arrives, thefts begin occurring - no longer the minor infractions the core group did, but major items that draw the attention of the management. The suspicion naturally falls on the temps. Here the film takes a quite drastic change of mood. As the thefts continue, the temps are more and more marginalised in the organisation, as police are called and an internal investigation begins.The temps as the foreign body within the organisation are subject to increasingly brutal discipline. First all the minor enjoyments of their day - making external phone calls, walking between each others desks to chat, wasting time making endless coffee. Then the company clamps down - the temps have their desks moved so they can be watched my management and can no longer either slack or talk to one another, the temps are banned from entering the office out of hours or leaving their dedicated floor, stationary is rationed to the point their jobs are difficult. Finally closed-circuit television is installed alongside regular searches of their desks by security. The film depicts the stress induced by this discipline incredibly well, using disorientating camera angles and a queasy colour pallete to depict the situation. The stress begins to manifest itself in a variety of ways. It begins to drive the group apart, breaking any solidarity they formally had. The film does a great job of placing the characters you previously trusted, including the narrator herself under suspicion, though most obviously Margaret who is ultimately even suspected by Iris, but only due to the paranoia induced by the situation. The psychological problems caused are numerous: Jane begins exhibiting obsessive compulsive rituals and self-harming, though it is never made explicit Paula seems likely to be severely dieting and likely bulimic. The girls no longer even lunch together - they snap and snipe, individualised against one another, not the management or situation as such. Margaret takes the situation by lapsing into depression and heavy drinking, wishing she didn’t exist, that she could just disappear. However, this depression converts to anger when their desks are searched. Having floated the idea earlier, Margaret calls for the temps to strike for a single day. The temps nominally agree, but all turn up to work the following day citing various excuses - the money, the fact they could be fired instantly and also, in the case of Iris, the suspicion that Margaret might be the thief. When she returns to work Margaret finds she has been replaced - she flies into a rage both at the girls and the company and is escorted off the premises by security in a distressing scene.
This breaks the back of the group - they split, going their separate ways. The film never shows us any other character apart from Iris, which is an effective filmic technique leaving the whole piece beautifully unresolved. Iris eventually catches the permanent member of staff, who had all along been the thief in the act. She confronts her to return her diary. On getting back the book, she sits with her at lunch, intimidating her by mirroring her moves and style of dress exactly, then burning her diary in a show of defiance and power over the permanent worker - that she got her diary back but it was just a show of power, the books isn’t even that important to her. The real mirroring is however how her character now mirrors an even more militant version of Margaret from the beginning of the film - she begins to dress the same. In the closing scenes, Iris puts on the power suit her father bought her from a discount store for a job interview (which she failed to get - and therefore must continue temping) and, claiming to an executive she is leaving, getting a letter of recommendation for Margaret - which he signs believing he was writing it for her because he doesn’t even know her name. The permanent worker gives Iris a new beautiful diary, suggesting some relationship is built. Her thefts were only an act of getting noticed, having power, which even the permanent worker has little or none of, which Iris is beginning to understand. The film concludes with Iris striking a militant pose, she intends to be named, to be noticed - sees the future filled with possibility. However, all the other plots have not been resolved - the problems still exist, unsolved.
Clockwatchers is a film of rare and critical intelligence only occasionally marred in making its points through a slightly clunky script and moments of triteness. It is well shot and the acting is decent. - Lisa Kudrow from Friends is an surprising turn. The states of anxiety induced by this pattern of work and the modes of discipline imposed are realistic and politically astute as are the reasons for the failure of the strike and the honest problematics of organising temporary workers. The focus on the temporality of work - the time spent at work dovetails nicely with other depictions of Post-Fordist labour such as Office Space (1999). The realism is someone one would expect from people who have actually worked in these situations. The feminism of the film, when compared to how this film could have been written, is refreshing. I have only touched on it here, but some of these thoughts could be expanded looking at the dynamics of the women’s relationships. It has however dated - CVs are written on type-writers, no one apart from the executives has a phone. Despite these caveats, it remains an excellent example of how a mainstream film can depict the realities of work with the same vividness as the art house.
We’re definitely moving toward “control” societies that are no longer exactly disciplinary. Foucault’s often taken as the theorist of discipli nary societies and of their principal technology, confinement (not just in hospitals and prisons, but in schools, factories, and barracks). But he was actually one of the first to say that we’re moving away from dis ciplinary societies, we’ve already left them behind. We’re moving toward control societies that no longer operate by confining people but through continuous control and instant communication. Burroughs was the first to address this. People are of course constantly talking about prisons, schools, hospitals: the institutions are breaking down. But they’re breaking down because they’re fighting a losing battle. New kinds of punishment, education, health care are being stealth ily introduced. Open hospitals and teams providing home care have been around for some time. One can envisage education becoming less and less a closed site differentiated from the workspace as another closed site, but both disappearing and giving way to frightful con tinual training, to continual monitoring of worker-schoolkids or bureaucrat-students. They try to present this as a reform of the school system, but it’s really its dismantling. In a control-based system nothing’s left alone for long. You yourself long ago suggested how work in Italy was being transformed by forms of part-time work done at home, which have spread since you wrote (and by new forms of circulation and distribution of products).
One can of course see how each kind of society corresponds to a particular kind of machine—with simple mechanical machines corresponding to sovereign societies, thermo-dynamic machines to disciplinary societies, cybernetic machines and computers to control societies. But the machines don’t explain any thing, you have to analyze the collective arrangements of which the machines are just one component. Compared with the approaching forms of ceaseless control in open sites, we may come to see the harsh est confinement as part of a wonderful happy past. The quest for “universals of communication” ought to make us shudder. It’s true that, even before control societies are fully in place, forms of delinquency or resistance (two different things) are also appearing. Computer piracy and viruses, for example, will replace strikes and what the nineteenth century called “sabotage” (“clogging” the machinery). You ask whether control or communication societies will lead to forms of resis tance that might reopen the way for a communism understood as the “transversal organization of free individuals.” Maybe, I don’t know. But it would be nothing to do with minorities speaking out. Maybe speech and communication have been corrupted. They’re thoroughly permeated by money—and not by accident but by their very nature. We’ve got to hijack speech. Creating has always been something different from communicating. The key thing may be to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control.
As many of you know, I co-organise (co-host? co-direct?) Novara with Aaron Peters. We spend an hour on the radio (Resonance FM) talking politics, communism, economics, direct action, philosophy, theory (&c.) each week, frequently with other people. We’ve just launched our excellent-looking…